Scooter study to evaluate parking fees

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
The city of Detroit has teamed with transportation data firm Passport Inc. and scooter company Lime to study how people use the electric scooters.

A new study could lead to parking charges on dockless electric scooters.

Detroit is one of three cities that recently partnered with North Carolina-based transportation data firm Passport Inc. and California scooter company Lime to study where people are leaving the scooters and for how long.

The six-month analysis, which also is being conducted in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Omaha, Nebraska, seeks to develop ways in which policies can ensure all Detroiters have access to the micro-mobility machines.

"We're looking at using pricing to manage supply and demand," said Mark de la Vergne, the city's mobility innovation chief. "We're looking to study if it's operationally feasible. It will achieve our goals if it makes sure the right-of-way is safe and expands this option to as many people as possible."

It's been a learning process for the city since the scooters appeared in downtown, Corktown, Eastern Market and Midtown in July, de la Vergne said. First came Bird Rides Inc., but Neutron Holdings Inc.'s Lime and what is now Ford Motor Co.'s Spin soon followed.

While the scooters have created a popular solution for people to get to a bus stop, car, job or location a short distance away, they also have caused headaches to local municipalities that had no mechanism to regulate them. As scooters zipped through pedestrian-heavy areas or blocked sidewalks while not in use, some cities banned and confiscated them.

The city of Detroit had published a memo on how the city's municipal code applied to the scooters about a week before they appeared on the streets. Since then, it has implemented a cap of 400 scooters per company and has required 100 be placed outside of downtown and Midtown.

But Passport, which designed the QLine and Park Detroit mobile apps, thinks there are better ways for the city to control where these machines end up — by issuing time- and location-based parking fees.

"You can see the behaviors of scooters in cities," said Devin Patel, Passport's business development vice president, "and assess a parking rate that is fair and dynamic based off city policy objectives."

For example, if there is a game at a sports stadium, the city could make scooter parking free in that area. Meanwhile, it could charge a fee outside a restaurant during its grand opening so as not to clutter its sidewalk with scooters. Or it could charge a lower tax in the neighborhoods to encourage scooter placement there.

A fee could be charged to the scooter companies, which then would have a reason to incentivize its users to dock their scooters based on city policies, Patel said.

The study provides the cities at no cost access to historical data on where scooters are being parked, allowing them to better understand behavior and how to implement a pricing model. Patel said he is unaware of any other similar studies or policies in place.

On a monthly basis, the city will meet with representatives from Lime and Passport to discuss these topics. Passport is in conversations with two other scooter operators, too, Patel said.

Evan Costagliola, Lime transportation partnerships director, said in a statement the company hopes to create a mutually beneficial pricing model.

The study is a part of a $5 million investment by Passport to help cities coordinate urban transportation ecosystems. If successful, Patel said, Passport hopes to monetize pricing algorithms for other communities and apply a similar concept to autonomous vehicles in the future.

De la Vergne said the city feels comfortable right now with the scooter caps it has in place.

"We hope this leads to scooters where more people are who could really use them," he said. "That is something that could be valuable."